Juvenile court, truancy bill advanced

Fewer juvenile offenders would be tried in adult court under a bill advanced from select file March 18.

As introduced by Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, LB464 would have required that all charges against juveniles younger than 18 years old be filed in juvenile court. Cases could be transferred to adult court upon a motion by the prosecutor and be heard before the juvenile court for a felony violation or for misdemeanor violations if a juvenile was 16 or 17 years old at the time the crime was committed.

An amendment brought by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, adopted 29-0, would require that only misdemeanors and Class IIIA and IV felonies be initiated in juvenile court. Further, the amendment would exempt Class I, II and III felonies for minors aged 14 and older from the mandatory juvenile court initiation.

Krist spoke in favor of the amended bill, saying that youth are too vulnerable to be placed in adult prisons. The state saves money by engaging young offenders as early as possible, he added.

“The time is now to starting treating kids like kids,” he said. “You have a choice: spend money in playpen or a lot more money in the state pen.”

Ashford also proposed an amendment, adopted 28-0, which outlines a plan for school districts and families to address student attendance problems. The plan may consider:
• illness related to physical or behavioral health of the child;
• educational counseling;
• educational evaluation;
• referral to community agencies for economic services;
• family or individual counseling; and
• assisting the family in working with other community services.

If the plan is unsuccessful and a student had missed 20 days of school, the school could submit a report to the county attorney. Illness that makes attendance impossible or impracticable would not be included as the basis for referral to the county attorney.

Further, the amendment replaces the three-member Truancy Intervention Task Force established in 2010 with a 10-person Council on Student Attendance. The council, which would include a student and parents in addition to education officials and a county attorney, would review school district absentee policies and be required to report to the Legislature annually.

Ashford said addressing absenteeism is the first line of defense in reducing youth violence and incarceration.

“We are arriving at a place where parents and schools and the juvenile justice system can work collaboratively to identify those children who are in significant need of further help,” he said.

Following adoption of two technical amendments, senators advanced LB464 from select file by voice vote.

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